Why has India’s ‘first digital village’ project shut down?

No official reason given for the closure of project that was aimed at training the villagers to become Internet savvy

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Despite the ever-growing chorus for Digital India, the country’s “first minority cyber village project” has died a quiet death. Interestingly, this has happened barely 150km from the national capital of New Delhi.

According to a news report, with the shutdown has put paid to hopes of several schoolchildren who were dreaming big after meeting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

In February 2014, the government launched a “minority cyber-gram” project in Chandoli village. The project was aimed at training the villagers to become Internet savvy. In October the same year, the Facebook CEO visited the village.

However, three years on, the project, which was launched by the previous Congress-led UPA government, has been shelved. No official reason has been given.

The closure has surprised some as it contradicts the Narendra Modi government’s push to bridge the country’s technology divide through its Digital India initiative. The government routinely announces plans to provide e-governance and phone connectivity to the entire population.

The Digital Empowerment Foundation, an NGO, ran the project in the village. The center was first renamed Atal Sewa Kendra when the BJP-led NDA came to power in 2014. “We were asked to vacate the government building in February 2015,” said Yousuf Khan, a regional manager of the NGO.

According to the report, the NGO operated for another year out of a rented room but could not sustain the project without funds.

Villagers believe the center was closed because schoolchildren were shooting off mails to the district collector and top bureaucrats about absent panchayat officials, who met at the center.

However, all the children know is the center has been closed and the dream that was born when they met Zuckerberg was crushed. “We thought one day we will also make software and websites and bring laurels to our village. With the center closed, we feel our dream will never fulfill,” said Hazrat Sapwan.

A student of class 8, Yasmeen Siddiqui, said she used to read news from around the world on Google and updated her parents about it when the project was running.

Even 50-year-old Bhagwati Devi loved going to the center to learn computers. “It has been eight months since the center closed. The closure is a huge loss,” she was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

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